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What Do the Pedals On a Piano Do – A Comprehensive Answer

What Do the Pedals On a Piano Do – A Comprehensive Answer
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Ever wondered what the pedals of the piano are meant for?

Do you think they serve the same purpose on every piano?

Let’s talk about the piano pedals.

What Do the Pedals On a Piano Do
Photo Credits: marc falardeau, flickr.com

Many people are caught up with playing the piano (keys) without playing the entire piano. The piano is made up of more than just the major and minor keys.

What Body Parts do You Need in Playing the Piano?

Playing the piano sounds better with the proper use of the pedal’s variance. In essence, making beautiful music isn’t restricted to using your hands on the piano. With your legs on the pedals, you can add spice while playing the piano.

“What Body Parts do You Need in Playing the Piano”

The pedals help with dynamics while playing. They give you options from loud to soft, sharp to sustained, among other sounds. Don’t forget that variety is the spice of life.

The mysterious thing is that some of these pedals play slightly different roles on different pianos.

Considering this, we will explain the functions of the pedals. We will also highlight the functional differences in various kinds of pianos.

If you prefer learning by video, this article is also explained here.

Video: What Do the Pedals On a Piano Do (A Comprehensive Answer)

What Are the Names of the 3 Piano Pedals?

The three piano pedals are the:

1. Sustain or Damper Pedal

2. Sostenuto or Middle Pedal

3. Soft or Una Corda pedal

“What Are the Names of the 3 Piano Pedals”
What Do the Pedals On a Piano Do
Photo Credits: Suha Affendi, flickr.com

What Is a Sustain Pedal?

The sustain pedal is the most used piano pedal. Arguably, it is considered the most important pedal on the piano. This is proven by how lots of pianists, especially classical ones use this feature while performing on the piano.

The sustain pedal is also known as the damper pedal. The name “damper pedal” is a result of how the pedal overrides the piano damper pad’s effect.

“What Is a Sustain Pedal”

The damper pads disallow your keys from sounding after you take your fingers off. However, the damper pedal overrides the damper pads, allowing the key’s tonal sound to reverberate after you take your fingers off.

Where can the sustain pedal be found on the acoustic piano and keyboard?

This pedal is found on the extreme right as against the other two pedals. Considering the importance of this pedal, regular keyboards and synthesizers usually have specific buttons to perform this function.

“Where can the sustain pedal be found on the acoustic piano and keyboard”
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How does the sustain pedal work?

As the name suggests, this pedal enables the sound of the keys to be sustained when played. Ordinarily, after you release your fingers from the keys, the sounds die-out almost immediately. Sustain pedals extend the tonal effects of the keys played, as long as your legs are on the lever.

“How does the sustain pedal work”

The regular piano consists of strings attached to the keys. Mostly, modern pianos have 3 strings attached to every key. In the early piano days, the instrument had 2 strings instead.

When you strike a key, a hammer-like item makes contact with the strings, causing a sound. The tension caused by contact between the strings and the hammer is what produces the tonal sounds.

Without the damper pedal, the peculiar sound of each of the keys is cut-off after you release your hands from the piano. However, the case is different with sustain pedals.

Even after you release your hands from the keys, sustain pedals allow the sound to be retained/sustained. The contact between the hammer and strings are made to act this way by the damper pedal.

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Compared to other piano pedals or playing without the pedals, the sustain pedal has its peculiarities.

The peculiarity of this pedal is down to how you cannot achieve a staccato effect or feel.

The staccato effect implies playing a key sharply, with the intent of achieving a sharp and brief sound. With a staccato effect, the previous sound is not supposed to overlap into the next sound.

It should be very sharp and brief. With a staccato, you cannot have slurs and like-patterned effects.

“What Is a Staccato Effect”

However, sustain pedals offer harmonic liveliness that is second to none. This is probably the reason lots of pianists use this piano feature.

Does every piano have 3 pedals?

Some pianos do not have three pedals. If you ever see a piano with only one pedal, undoubtedly, the solo pedal will be that sustain pedal. This validates how important this pedal is.

“Does every piano have 3 pedals”

What and Where Is the Sostenuto or Middle Pedal?

The sostenuto pedal is can also be called the middle pedal. The name is suggestive given its location among the other pedals. For a piano with all three pedals, this pedal is right in between.

“What and Where Is the Sostenuto or Middle Pedal”
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Judging from our experience with the piano, this pedal is misunderstood by lots of pianists. This is because many people do not know its real function. First, let’s see what the word means. 

Sostenuto is an Italian word that means “sustain”. The Italian influence on the piano’s evolution and music at large cannot be overemphasized. For one, the inventor of the piano was Italian. The name piano is also coined from an Italian word.

Isn’t it ironic that it shares the same name as sustain pedals?

Does the sostenuto pedal sustain key sounds as well?

What is the difference between sustain pedal and the sostenuto pedal?

When sustain pedals are applied, any key or note struck will have a resonating sound. On the other hand, the case is different with the sostenuto pedal. This is because this pedal only affects the last key(s) played before it is applied. 

If you intend to use this pedal, you need to strike the intended keys, notes, or chords first. Afterward, apply this pedal.

“What is the difference between sustain pedal and the sostenuto pedal”

Don’t forget the sequence as it is very important. First, identify the notes, keys, or chords you intend to have a resonating sound. Strike them and immediately apply the sostenuto pedal.

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As a result of this, the previously played keys will have a sustained or resonating sound anytime they are played. This will be in variance with other keys that will have the usual sharp sound.

This means that anytime you play the previous notes, they will have a sustained and resonating sound.

Although it’s the most recent addition of the three pedals, it might have been inspired by old piano pieces. This is given how they usually had a re-occurring bass line. These bass notes or chords gave the high-pitched melodies harmonic aid.

This pedal offers the pianist a great feature. This is usually the ability to combine tonal resonance on a few keys and the staccato effect on remaining keys. This is a great option that can play out all at the same time.

However, this doesn’t have to be the case while using this pedal. You can simply have sustained effects on some keys and the usual thing on others.

In recent times, the function of this pedal on some piano is altered. Some use it as a practice pedal. This enables the volume of the piano to be very reduced. This is to avoid making noise as with amateurs, novice, and inexperienced players.

On some other pianos, this pedal acts as a sustain pedal for the bass notes alone.

For us, the appropriate use of this pedal is one of the true tests of a great pianist. This is considering how lots of pianists are unable to properly engage this pedal.

What and Where Is the Soft or Una Corda Pedal?

The Soft or Una Corda is located on the extreme left of the three pedals. As with so many piano and musical terms, the word Una Corda is Italian. It means “One string”. The pedal usually restricts the hammer’s effect to only one string, leaving out the other string from the action. This is the reason for the name Una Corda.

“What and Where Is the Soft or Una Corda Pedal”

This is because older pianos had two strings attached to every key. This is opposed to the three strings on modern pianos.

On a piano with 3 pedals, this pedal is at the extreme left. It is also known as the soft pedal. When you press the soft pedal, you will notice the piano keys shift towards the left.

What does the Soft or Una Corda Pedal do?

This pedal gives the keys struck, a softer sound. It doesn’t alter the tone, however, the volume and feel are different and milder than the regular sounds.

“What does the Soft or Una Corda Pedal do”

You should understand how this happens. The modern piano has 3 strings attached to each key or note. When you strike any key or note on the piano, the hammer mechanism makes contact with all 3 strings. This is what produces the regular key sounds on the piano.

However, on grand pianos, when the soft pedal is applied, not all the 3 strings have contact with the hammer. Instead, using the soft pedal restricts the hammer’s contact to just 2 strings. This leaves out 1 string that will not be hit by the hammer.

Usually, that one string excluded from the hammer’s contact is the one at the extreme left. This is the reason the keys tilt to the right, allowing the hammer to hit the other 2 strings, leaving out 1 string.

The Una Corda pedal reduces the volume of key sounds, giving the struck keys a milder tone. 

Remember what the soft pedal does. As against the tensed tonal vibration of three strings, a string is left out. That’s like the effect of striking two strings on the guitar, instead of three, four, or more.

However, on an upright piano, the process is slightly different. Unlike the grand piano, most upright pianos do not have enough space between the 3 strings of each key. As a result, this pedal effect happens via another procedure.

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Rather than exclude a string from the hammer’s tension, the usual force with which the hammer hits the string is reduced. This is achieved by moving the hammers closer. The hammers are moved closer to the strings, reducing the normal force of tension.

On the digital piano, the soft pedal feature can be digitalized. As a result, you may only see one pedal, leaving out the manual pedal effect.

Video: What do the pedals on a piano do?

In answering the question of what do the pedals on a piano do? below is a visual explanation

On a Final Note

The question of what do the pedals on a piano do has been addressed in this article. However, you should know various techniques can be engaged while using the pedals.

Some of these techniques include half-pedaling, direct pedaling, preliminary pedaling, subsequent pedaling, among others. These strategies offer you various effects when they are engaged on the pedals.

Furthermore, considering technological advancement, the pedal features are fully incorporated in digital pianos. An example is cited in the link below.

Rome was not built in a day. In the same vein, with practice and time, you will get better, using these pedals. However, you have an edge knowing the functions of these pedals. Considering that, make practical use of this knowledge on the piano.

Check out these other in-depth articles/reviews…

What Do the Pedals on a Piano Do – Related FAQs

Which Piano Pedal is Mostly Used?

The most used pedal on the traditional acoustic piano is the sustain pedal. It is the most important piano pedal. If a piano has only one pedal, that would be a sustain pedal. This affirms the importance as noted by piano manufacturers and pianists as well.

On a piano with 3 pedals, sustain pedals are located in the extreme right of the three pedals. By obstructing the usual working of the piano dampers, it enables the piano sounds to resonate after the key has been struck.

Is the Middle Pedal Always the Sostenuto Pedal?

The middle pedal is not always the sostenuto pedal. In this day and age, it is preferable to refer to the pedal in the middle as the middle pedal. Although the sostenuto pedal is also called the middle pedal, the trend has changed. Rather than selectively sustaining sounds, some pianos have the middle pedal as a practice pedal. 

For pianos that use the middle pedal as practice pedal, inexperienced players can practice without disturbing anyone. The use of this pedal reduces the sound that the piano usually generates.

What Does Half-Pedaling Mean?

Half-pedaling is a technique that involves slight pressure applied to the pedal. As a result, the piano dampers are not fully obstructed from working. Instead, there is little contact between the damper and the strings. This causes a fine sound that is neither arpeggio nor a fully sustained sound.

This technique is usually performed by experienced pianists. This is because it is one of the most technical ways to use the piano pedal. However, when used appropriately, it adds elegance to the performance.

Can the Piano be Played Without Pedals?

The piano can be played without the pedals. The ability to move the fingers appropriately on the piano keys is most important. The use of the pedals is just to enhance this. However, the use of the pedal enhances the sounds produced by the piano keys. It does this by beautifully altering the tone of the keys. 

To make the most of the piano, a pianist should know how to use the piano pedals. He should also be aware of the various piano pedaling techniques.

How Do You Get the Piano Pedal Effect on the Digital Piano?

To have the pedal effect, you should find out how it is instilled in the digital piano. This can either be manually or via buttons. The use of piano pedals on the digital piano can take various forms. This is determined by the piano in question. 

Some digital pianos come with the conventional 3 pedals. As a result, the pedals can be used as on the acoustic piano. Some come with only one pedal, digitalizing every other pedal function with specific buttons.

Can You Have Sustain Pedal on the Keyboard?

You can have sustain pedal on the keyboard. Many new synthesizers and keyboards come with buttons that perform sustain pedal’s role. By pressing this button, the sounds of the keys are sustained. Other than the use of buttons, there are universal sustain pedals that can be used. These pedals can work on any keyboard or synthesizer.

By using the universal pedal, conservative pianists can enjoy a little bit of the acoustic piano’s pedal feel. This is because rather than simply pressing a button, they can engage the use of their feet, a practice on acoustic pianos.

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